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The Berlin Wall: Why does art thrive on violence?


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Anatoly Korolev) 

The construction of the Berlin Wall started 45 years ago, in August of 1961. This was a fatal date in the history of Europe and the rest of the world. The wall separated Soviet-controlled East Berlin from the western part, which belonged to the Federal Republic of Germany. It became a formidable dividing line between the two worlds, with an overall length of 165 km, including 45 km within the city limits; barbed wire, searchlights and watchtowers.

The wall was designed to prevent an exodus of East Germans to West Berlin. By that time thousands had already escaped. Now border guards opened fire upon any attempt to climb the Wall. Hundreds of Germans died trying to flee, but this did not stop others. The Wall witnessed daring attempts to scale it and examples of incredible resourcefulness.

In 1993, after it was torn down, the Germans brought a unique display to Moscow. They exhibited different things that defectors used to cross the border. I was truly stunned by some of them. A musician took out all the stuffing from an amplifier system and put his tiny girlfriend in it. An engineer made a crossbow, and on a dark night shot a bolt with a steel-wire rope attached to it at a house beyond the Berlin Wall. The bolt pierced the wall of the house. Having secured the rope on his side of the border, the engineer took a special rucksack with wheels and attached it to the rope. In this rucksack he first sent his wife and children to the free world, and then followed suit.

There was also a huge suitcase which a West German mailed from East Berlin to his own address in the western part of the city with his young nephew inside. The teenager breathed through special holes in the suitcase and was covered with tobacco to prevent patrol dogs from discovering him. Or take a mini-helicopter made from a propeller attached to the engine of an electric saw. In a couple of minutes it could lift the inventor several meters over the ground, but this was enough for him to fly over the damn obstacle during a thunderstorm on a dark night.

There were dozens of such inventions at the show. But the Berlin Wall was not all about resourcefulness. It also gave rise to dozens of artistic masterpieces. Take Pink Floyd's great virtual show "The Wall", an outstanding musical protest against violence. It is enough to recall the sinister march of walking steel pliers, or the finale, when the musicians destroy a wall made of plastic foam.

Fiction did not ignore the tragic topic, either. The Berlin Wall plays a key role in John le Carre's wonderful novel "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold".

Elton John's famous clip "Nikita" shows a singer who arrives at a checkpoint in a huge, chic convertible and gives his passport to a female border guard in uniform. They fall for each other at first sight. Elton starts singing that it would be his dream to dance with her, have some wine, chat, and take her uniform off. His fantasy becomes reality on the screen, but a stern reprimand from her commander brings them back to reality. The uniformed girl joins the ranks of marching soldiers.

But Wim Wenders' "The Sky over Berlin" is probably the most outstanding production of all. This great film tells the story of a guardian angel's love for a female acrobat in a circus, whom he saves from falling while she walks on a tightrope. The admirable Bruno Gans stars in this role. The Wall is an important emotional element of the film: It is there that the angel turns into a man, sacrificing his immortality for love. This romantic story takes place against the backdrop of life in two parts of the city on the eve of the Wall's destruction in 1989-1990.

Here's my first question: Would there be no masterpieces without the Wall? Why does art always thrive on violence? Why would Wenders' movie, le Carre's novel, and even Elton John's song be boring without violence? This gloomy paradox has been true of art for centuries because, regrettably, it thrives on evil.

This is what French Catholic philosopher Maritain meant when he wrote with irony about literature: "Indeed, a writer should be holy, but then he wouldn't write a novel."

Marx could have added this about the fall of the Communist-imposed barriers and the triumph of Western values: "Capitalist society is tantamount to anarchy, where life is nothing but the gamble of private interests."

What was the first thing Wenders' angel did when he became a man? He started looking for a second-hand shop where he could sell his attire for money. Business comes first.

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